Glossary & Abbreviations Used on this Site

Okay, sometimes I’m just lazy. There are a few abbreviations and things I use throughout this site. You probably can figure out most of ’em out, but just in case, here they are.

Feel free to make suggestions or contributions. And if you’re troubled by references to sneezing roscoes and the like, check out Twists, Slugs and Roscoes: A Glossary of Hardboiled Slang, originally compiled by “Wild Bill” Denton of Rara-Avis fame.

I’ve also included a French Glossary (courtesy of Brad Spurgeon at the bottom of the page, just in case.

AKA, aka
Also Known As

An Advance Reading Copy, usually a paperback version of a soon-to-be published hardcover, mailed to book stores and reviewers in hopes of attracting sales and favorable book reviews. The reviews will hopefully produce copy for the blurbs on the eventual hardcover’s dust jacket.

Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.

Also known as “Bandes dessinées” or “bedes.”-European style comic books/graphic novels, generally originally in French, intended for readership in the French and Belgian markets.

Big Book Syndrome
Once upon a time, one of the biggest impediments to enjoyable books was The Big Book Syndrome, wherein an 200 or so page story would take 300, 400, or even 600 pages to tell. Most classic P.I. novels of the past rarely ventured past the 200-300 page mark, and some barely made it past 150. Even the relatively long-winded Ross Macdonald rarely made it past 300 pages, but  in a misguided motion to give people “their money’s worth” publishers, particularly since the 1990s,  started to routinely crank out bloated, puffed-out novels, full of irrelevant scenes, redundant characters and more padding than the NFL…
Not all lengthier books are guilty of this, but crime fiction in particular generally seems better suited to shorter lengths.

Of course, ebooks and “indie” publishers have since arrived, and there are worse things than page counts to worry about.

Blurb Sluts
I don’t know if this phrase originated on the DorothyL list or not, but that’s where I first stumbled across it. Simply put, the authors who are quoted in puffy, generic blurbs on the covers of books, often in exchange for blurbs for their own books.

Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine

Film Noir
You’re kidding right? They’ll be arguing about the definition of noir until the cows come home. Possibly to the slaughter house.
Me? Before the French gave it a name in 1946, as early as 1944 Fred Stanley in The New York Times referred to the sudden preponderance of gloomy, hard edged and often low budget B&W crime films as the “red meat” crime cycle. I like that one.

From the Peanut Gallery
I rarely use this heading anymore, but comments found under this heading tended to be casual, brief remarks, often pulled from our mailbox. Excerpted quotes from formal, published reviews and more considered remarks are generally found under the heading, Under Oath (see below). 

Graphic Novels
Usually refers to a “novel-length” long-form comic book, that may or may not collect previously-published material, or adapt a work from another medium.

Like “noir,” a term that may be hard to pin down, but you know it when you step in it.

Refers to A Bibliography Of Crime Fiction, 1749-1975, a well-known and invaluable reference work, compiled by Allan J. Hubin. There was a second third and fourth volume, the last two available on CD-ROM, taking us up to 2000 or so.

Mary Higgins Clark Mystery Magazine.

Michael (later Mike) Shayne Mystery Magazine.

The Mushroom Jungle
Refers to the post-World War II pulp paperback publishing boom in England (and arguably Australia), fondly remembered for its balls-to-the-walls pulpy goodness, full of cheesy covers, and cheesier writing–much of it “American-style” crime fiction written by people who’d never been to the United States, and wouldn’t be able to tell you the difference between Long Beach and Long Island. The term may have been coined by Steve Holland, who literally wrote the book.

Paperback originals. A book initially published in softcover.

The Private Eye Writers of America. An organization primarily for professional writers, founded by Robert Randisi, devoted to private-eye detective fiction. They also bestow the annual Shamus Awards. I’m a member of the PWA, and proud of it.

Recommended If You Like. Another heading I rarely use anymore.

The Armchair Detective. Much loved mystery magazine, now deceased.

A thriiler is a thriller is a thriller. Yes, but it might even be used to describe something like Elmore Leonard. Crime fiction, then, that doesn’t necessarily have a mystery angle, although for many–particularly in the U.K.–a “thriller” is simply a blanket term for any sort of crime fiction.

The Saint Mystery Magazine.

A film made for television

The Usual Suspects
My less-than-charitable name, swiped from Casablanca, for any “in” crowd that seems to suddenly pop up all over the place, dishing up dubious cover blurbs, five-star reviews and award nominations for each other. Other names include “The Mutual Backscratch Society” and the “Loyal Knights of the Circle Jerk.”

Derogatory name given to oversize (trade) paperbacks that first hit it big in North America in the eighties, mostly in North America, when Jay McInerny’s Bright Lights, Big City and Bret Eston Ellis’ Less Than Zero were first published in this format. Black Lizard was soon cranking out reprints by David Goodis and Jim Thompson in this format, thereby allowing themselves to justify jacking up the prices. Many other publishers soon followed suit. I figured at the time that it was just plain price gouging, but in Europe they had apparently existed forever.

But correspondent Jim Mann spoke to a few publishers and was told that for many titles, it was a choice of trade or nothing. For books that don’t sell enough copies in mass market for publishers to afford a standard paperback, they can sometimes afford to release a trade paperback. This is for two reasons. The price is one. But the other is that trade paperbacks are not strippable/returnable. Bookstores can’t just buy way too many, sell only a few, strip and return the covers, then pulp them all, while getting their money back from the publisher.

Hmmm… you don’t need to go to one of those top business schools around to think there’s something a little fishy with this sort of business model. No wonder publishing was–and is–in trouble.

Ross Macdonald books, for example, had more or less always been in print. Yet starting in the late eighties or early nineties, they were being released in trade paperback at twice the price. Meanwhile, both the Travis McGee series by John D. MacDonald, and the Perry Mason series by Erle Stanley Gardner, were being released in regular paperback size. It seems to me bookstores aren’t ordering any of these in massive quantities, in either format; they’re all, after all, old books now, and none of ’em are going to miraculously hit the bestseller lists again.

But charging 14 bucks will move more copies than if they’re eight bucks? It was a strange strategy, one we can look back on and wonder…


The first difficulty in understanding the French crime novel (assuming, of course, you can read French) is figuring out the meanings of the terms used to describe the genre and its sub-genres. It is often difficult to know what term to use, and frequently not even the French can agree. Most of this glossary is by Brad Spurgeon, a Canadian living in Paris since 1983, who works at the International Herald Tribune. It originally appeared in the Winter 1997 issue of The Armchair Detective.

If you’re interested in French crime writing, make sure to check out Brad’s “France and the Crime Novel,” which remains the definitive, online English-language guide to the subject, complete with transcribed interviews with many of France’s best hardboiled writers, and other movers and shakers of the scene. And check out our own Les Flics Privés: French Eyes for a quick rundown on Gallic gumshoes.

Generally, a collection of comics (bande-dessinées), generally at least initially hardbound, comprising a complete, often previously-serialized, storyline. Sometimes referred to as graphic novels, or an album.


The Bibliothèque des Littératures Policières, more commonly known as the BILIPO, is the French mystery library, located in Paris, that houses more reference work about, and examples of this genre, than you can shake a baguette at.

To the French, this means really hard-boiled, similar to polar, but not perhaps necessarily fast-moving. Very black, in fact. But the hero does not necessarily have to die at the end. Perhaps the only French term to be adopted in English to describe the same thing.

The 1970s-’80s version of the French mystery novel, after the rebirth of the genre following May ’68. Often a politically-oriented novel with a social message.

Short story

Hard-boiled, hard hitting, often fast moving. But also often a pejorative, as in a cheap potboiler, although Roger Martin disagrees, saying that “polar” is a general term which has exactly the same meaning as “roman policier.” Aren’t you glad to see the French aren’t above semantic hairsplitting debates as well?

Roman mystere
Mystery novel in a lighter vein than, say, a roman policier.

Roman policier
General term meaning just about everything, but with the emphasis on cops or private eyes.

Série noir
An amazing publishing imprint, specializing in (usually hardboiled) crime fiction that has existed since 1945. Starting in 1991, etective writer Patrick Raynal served for several years as the editorial director. The current director is Stéphanie Délestré.

Respectfully compiled by Kevin Burton Smith. Thanks to Brad Spurgeon for allowing us to rerun the French  Glossarry, and to Roger Martin for the update\.

2 thoughts on “Detectionary

  1. About “French Glossary”: 1) it’s Série noire 2) Polar is a general term which has exactly the same sens as Roman policier 3) Patrick Raynal has left Série noire since at least 12 or 13 years. Actual director is Stéphanie Délestré.

    Best regards,
    Roger Martin

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